Having to battle the false doctrine of the Gnostics, John here stresses an area that was vital to Christianity – the brief in both a final judgment and a life hereafter – both of which the Gnostics denied. He warns that this world, with all its sinful pleasures (Heb. 11:25), was not the end, but rather was passing away, and that only he who does the will of God abides forever (1 Jn. 2:17).
The term “world” is used in several different senses. Sometimes it means the created planet (Acts 17:24) and sometimes it refers to humanity as a whole (Jn. 3:16). However, in this context, John is using it in the sense of the evil ways of society. In 1 Jn. 5:19, he points out that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” Again in James 4:4 we find that “friendship with the world is hostility toward God”; and “having loved this present world,” Demas deserted Paul in 2 Tim. 4:10. In John 15:19, Jesus said, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
The evil ways of the world are broken down into three main categories by John: (1) the lust of the flesh, (2) the lust of the eyes, and (3) the boastful pride of life. Basically, all of the temptations of mankind can be placed within these classifications; Satan has not hesitated to use them upon us – beginning in the Garden of Eden (where Eve saw that the forbidden fruit was good for food, a delight to the eyes, and desirable to make one wise – Gen. 3:6) clear on down to, and including, the Son of God (stones to bread, the kingdoms of the world, and the challenge as to whether or not God would actually back up Christ as being the Son of God – Matt. 4). Since Christ was tempted in all ways as we are (Heb. 4:15), we should not expect Satan to deal any differently with us today, nor to be any less desirous of seeing our downfall through his snares.
If the doctrines of the Gnostics were so, John realized some brethren would cease to be concerned about living as the word of God directs. So, over and over again John stressed that they knew better than to fall for such a trap. Even the new born babe in Christ was aware of the fact that his sins had recently been forgiven (1 Jn. 2:12), and should not seek to again turn back to the ways of the world and their short-comings (2 Pet. 2:20-21). While more mature Christians had overcome the evil one (1 Jn. 2:13), John does not affirm other trials may not yet await them in the future. The older brethren knew the word of God (1 Jn. 2:14) and surely would not yield to such deceptive ways.
Again, if we profess to know Him, John adds, then we cannot be followers of the ways of the world. “The one who says, `I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 Jn. 2:4). If we hate our brother, we are following the ways of the world with its passions, and again such are not the ways of God (1 Jn. 2:9-11). We are called upon to make a choice which will really be our true love. “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments,” Jesus had said earlier (Jn. 14:15). Now John adds that “whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected” (1 Jn. 2:5). He further adds that the only way one can truly be born of Him is to “practice righteousness” (1 Jn. 2:29 – in Psa. 119:172 David tells us “all Your commandments are righteousness”). Thus John challenges them to leave the world, and turn their backs upon it, and “let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning” (1 Jn. 2:24).
John knew the world was full of deceivers and false workers. He cautioned the brethren saying, “even now many anti-Christs have arisen” (1 Jn. 2:18). First and foremost, he applies such a term to the Gnostics, who denied that the fleshly man Jesus was also the Christ (1 Jn. 2:22). He does not stipulate that there is but one anti-christ, but says “many” have arisen. We need to remember that any doctrine that is contrary to that which we have received is a reflection upon Christ Himself, and those advocating such are thus placing themselves against (or anti) Christ. Today this may manifest itself in rebellion against the word of God as well as claims of modern revelations, etc. contrary to that preached by the apostles (Gal. 1:6-9).
Being aware of all these things, John wrote, “that you may not sin” (1 Jn. 2:1). Clearly it would be useless to write to them if they could not sin, and a waste of effort if it made no difference (i.e., if there were no judgment). John knew the dangers inherent in every act of sin, and thus wrote to warn the brethren not to be lulled into complacency by the ways of the world. Too many today are yet crying, “God is too merciful,” and “Just one little sin is not going to send you to hell.” But John urged them against any sin. Yet, even in this, he reassured them if one did sin, all was not lost to the world, but Christ was indeed our advocate (“one called alongside to help”) and there to plead our case as we complied with His terms (Heb. 2:17-18; 4:15-16 f; 1 Jn. 1:9).
John then focuses on the ever-present dangers that confront the child of God in a love for the world. Being forewarned, we may be forearmed, and recognize and quench the “flaming missiles” of the evil one (Eph. 6:16). The lust of the flesh (1 Jn. 2:15-17) is mentioned first, and refers to the body and its various animal appetites. It refers to all the fleshly pleasures, indulgences, and physical cravings that appeal to mankind. Gal. 5:19-21 lists many such sinful cravings, as does also 1 Cor. 6:9-10, Col. 3:5, and Eph. 5:3-7. It is interesting to note that sexual immorality heads nearly every such listing of the lusts of the flesh, showing the grave danger it poses for the Christian. It refers to our former manner of life (Eph. 2:3) which we ignorantly followed (not realizing the consequences thereof, or perhaps not caring – 1 Pet. 1:14), and things of which we now ought to be ashamed (Rom. 6:21).
Unfortunately, now as then, too many would prefer the Gnostic doctrine of no judgment and have not really put the worldly lusts of the flesh behind them when they obey the gospel. The lust of the eyes continuously serves as a temptation for man. All the glitter and splendor of the world can be appealing – whether it be material things as jewelry, beautiful homes, commercials for liquor and other such sins or baser things such as the lustful cravings unlawful for us to pursue (Matt. 5:27-28). The boastful pride of life is also mentioned in James 4:16. Such may be manifested in a pride that will not let us humble ourselves in obedience to the will of God (Phil. 2:8 f; Heb. 5:8-9), or perhaps even from admitting there is a God to whom we must be subject. It may be the pride that hinders us from confessing our sins and seeking His forgiveness. Proverbs reminds us, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling” (16:18). The haughty look is one of the items mentioned as an abomination to God (Prov. 6:17). Again we are reminded, “A man who hardens his neck after much reproof will suddenly be broken beyond remedy” (Prov. 29:1). Such boastful pride may also manifest itself in the pursuit of worldly acclaim, honors, titles and offices for which one boasts of his great achievements. Truly such pride is a trap wisely laid by Satan.
John says these things do not come from the Father. They do not lead to eternal life nor the betterment of the soul. Anyone who so contends is “trying to deceive you” (1 Jn. 2:26). But the thing we must never forget is that they do not last either. Nothing that is related to this world and its sinful pleasures has any real future. “As he had come naked from his mother’s womb, so will he return as he came. He will take nothing from the fruit of his labor that he can carry in his hand” (Eccl. 5:15). Indeed, they are all “vanities of vanity.” “The world is passing away, and also its lusts.” This is a lesson so many never learn, and find it hard to give up the world and all its lusts. We must remember that we are merely passing through, camping on the road back to heaven.
“Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul” (1 Pet. 2:11). If we could adopt this attitude, the sinful ways of the world would not carry nearly as much appeal as they do when we focus our sights much lower and concentrate more on the here and now. Not only is the world passing away, but so are all of its lusts, the things that fan these desires into flames. “But the one who does the will of God abides forever” (1 Jn. 2:17). “Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God…” (2 Pet. 3:11-12). Following such pleasures will lead to eternal regret.